Robert Levinson, an American who had been missing in Iran for nearly seven years now, was reportedly working for a secretive and unapproved Central Intelligence Agency mission when he disappeared.
The details were revealed in a sensational investigative piece from the Associated Press on Friday, which explained that the unapproved intelligence-gathering mission which, if revealed, would have caused a serious internal CIA scandal.
The shocking fact that Levinson was a bona fide CIA operative comes as a major blow to the White House, the State Department and the US intelligence Community, who have been repeatedly denying his links to the government for years.
Ever since Levinson went missing during a purported 'business trip' to the Iranian island of Kish in March 2007, US government officials have repeatedly called on Iran to help locate his whereabouts.
Seven years after the hunt for Levinson went on vain, it has been revealed that the CIA paid off his family and reprimanded many other analysts involved. The intelligence agency is said to have paid $2.5 million to Levinson's family to avoid a public lawsuit, and also disciplined 10 veteran analysts, rewriting its rules restricting how analysts can work with outsiders.
The FBI's hunt for Levinson led them up to the land of Afghanistan and Pakistan- and back to Iran. Hassan Rouhani, the recently-elected president has denied having any involvement in Levinson's kidnapping or knowing his whereabouts.
Meanwhile, Levinson has not been heard from, ever since his purported captors in Iran sent a series of upsetting and worrisome pictures in 2010. Top intelligence officials fear that the he is, in all probability, dead.
Anne Jablonski Connection
The engaging Associated Press investigation alleges that Levinson was gathering information on corruption in the controversial Islamic republic and had been reporting to Anne Jablonski, who was a top-ranking CIA analyst.
It remained unknown to officials that she had been paying Levinson for the field work in Iran.
The media outlet alleges that it had been ordered by the US government on three different occasions since 2010, to avoid leaking information on Levinson's ties with CIA. The news agency said that it eventually decided to run the story after all efforts to bring Levinson back to the US seem to have failed.
"The US government strongly urged the AP not to run this story out of concern for Mr levinson's life," National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden told BBC.
"We regret that the AP would choose to run a story that does nothing to further the cause of bringing him home."
The 65-year-old father of seven was initially believed to have been privately investigating cigarette counterfeiting when he disappeared. In 2011, his family received images of Levinson wearing a long grey beard, in an orange suit, holding five signboards that read:
1. 4th year...You can't or you don't want?
2. This is the result of 30 years serving for USA
3. Why you cannot help me
4. I am here in Guantanamo-Do you know where it is?
5. Help me
In a 54-second clip that the family received in the same year, Levinson is seen pleading desperately, "Help me get home."
The phone that was used to send the photographs were later traced to Afghanistan and the video was discovered to have been sent from Pakistan.
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